An online v offline question


A chara, – Another week passes, and another senior Irish Times columnist asks to stop the internet, because they want to get off. Stephen Collins (Opinion, August 18th) describes “the social media” as a “fad”, characterised by all manner of bad things.

In comparable international news institutions, professional debate long ago transcended such black and white caricatures to consider the ethical, journalistic and economic significance of producing news in a convergent, globalised media environment.

Given this basic context, an established figure writing about the “internet” as a unitary field to be dismissed is scarcely credible. Arguing in a week when the two main global news stories – Julian Assange and Pussy Riot – illustrate the transformative impact of digital communications on political processes, is hardly the best exposition of the traditional journalistic values Stephen Collins purports to defend.

The article contends that in the current political-economic crisis, “The traditional media, too, played a role in helping people to understand what had happened and what the solution might be – in sharp contrast to the abusive and fatalistic commentary that dominated on the web.”

The anxiety of the gatekeeper challenged by new forms of communication is telling. Romantic stories of the democratic potential of social media are as weak as Stephen Collins’s bleak generalisations. However, there is room for a public debate as to how adequately “traditional media” have represented the impact of austerity measures, and how thoroughly they have investigated the causes of the crisis and the political options available. Similarly, there is much to consider in how a wide political spectrum of blogs and activists have used networked communications to analyse economic data, develop assessments of the crisis, and organise political responses. For all its limitations, this sphere is profoundly democratic; patrician nostalgia for a recouping of media power is not.

Finally, Collins dismisses the tone of comments on The Irish Times website without recognising the co-responsibility of the newspaper and the columnist for what transpires online. I am a frequent contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free, where writers are expected to engage early in a comment thread. This does not guarantee civility, but it focuses the debate, and illustrates the newspaper’s commitment to its readership.

Stephen Collins’s argument fails to understand that if an institution offers an interactive possibility, contributors must work to make it meaningfully interactive. Otherwise, it is nothing more than the digital equivalent of being offered the bishop’s ring to kiss. – Is mise,


School of English, Media & Theatre Studies,

NUI Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Sir, – I refer to Stephen Collins’s comments in relation to social media (Opinion, August 18th).

As a business owner I would like to suggest that Facebook be likened to the king’s new clothes. Nobody is prepared to say it does not generate sales, which surely is the bottom line! Much hype, for little or no return, Facebook should stick to what it is – a social media for people who want to create a social profile without the expense of a PR consultant! – Yours, etc,


Lower Churchtown Road,

Churchtown, Dublin 14.